Determined drive from Ben Barnicoat secures impressive results in Valencia

Monday, September 27, 2021
GT World Challenge Europe - Spa 24 Hours - Race Report
Ben Barnicoat produced further stellar performances at the wheel of the #38 JOTA McLaren in Spain over the weekend, as he continues to impress during the 2021 campaign. A standout lap during qualifying saw Ben put the McLaren 720S GT3 on pole position for the first time in the championship, and his race pace saw the McLaren Factory Driver bring home a hard-fought 4th in the final Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup race of the season. The results only tell half the story, however, and the weekend saw another cruel result, robbing Ben and his JOTA teammate Ollie Wilkinson of a first podium of the season.

The pace of the JOTA McLaren was clear from the outset, and Ben proved to be one of the quickest in the early sessions of the weekend. His laptimes in pre-qualifying put him at the top of the timesheets, and he was looking to bounce back from the previous rounds. Indeed, the 24-year-old set the early benchmark in qualifying to go quickest. As the session continued, and the track continued to evolve, laptimes improved across the board, but with each lap completed Ben kept himself in contention. With the clock run down, Ben mounted one final attack and improved on his previous performance across each of the three sectors around the track. At the line, Ben secured his debut championship pole position by just 0.073s.

The penultimate race of the season saw Ben make a clean start from the rolling start, escaping chaotic scenes from the chasing field as they went four-wide into turn 1. As the opening lap continued, battles intensified and resulted in heavy contact between a number of the midfield runners which brought out the Safety Car. The restart saw Ben and the chasing Mercedes initially break away from the following group, but a further incident saw a car beached in the gravel which neutralised the lead as the Safety Car emerged for a second time.

These interruptions to full race speed prevented Ben from building up a lead, but as the pitstop window opened and the track went green, he set about pulling away from his rivals. When the second-place Mercedes pitted early, Ben was left in clear air to open up the gap, running deeper into the pit window. He eventually entered the pitlane to hand over to Ollie having established a 5.6-second buffer, but quick laps by the chasing Mercedes saw the #38 McLaren emerge in 2nd by the narrowest of margins. Ollie then continued the fight, holding station and pushing for the team’s maiden podium result. In a cruel twist of fate, with just over 10 minutes remaining, Ollie was hit from behind as he approached turn 8, spinning the green and red McLaren across the track and forcing an early end to the race.

With the JOTA team completing the repairs, Ollie started the weekend’s second race from 11th, and all members of the team were looking to sign off the Sprint Cup on a high. A less frantic start to proceedings meant the race got underway without any issues, but saw Ollie having to battle hard in the opening laps as a group of cars looked to challenge for the top 10. Shortly after this, three of the group engaged in the battle made contact and the resulting incident brought out another Safety Car, while promoting the #38 into the top-10. Navigating the restart well, Ollie maintained position and continued to press, only succumbing to the pressure in the final stage of his stint just before he pitted.

Having been one of the first to pit, and with just over 35 minutes remaining on the clock, Ben emerged from the pitlane firmly in the midfield, but showing immediate strong pace and closing down the cars ahead running on old tyres. Such was Ben’s pace that he set consistently fastest sectors, and was comfortably the quickest car on track lapping a full 1 second quicker than the leaders as he started to move up the order.

As the pitstops shook out, Ben gained further positions, and when the pitstop window concluded with 20 minutes remaining, he had moved up to P8. Despite now running on more of a level playing field against his rivals, all now on newer tyres, Ben continued to close the gap and crossed off a further three positions with 15 minutes to run, with a sizeable 6.3-second gap to 4th. He wasn’t finished, however, and continued to deliver consistently quick laps, making the pass with 5 minutes remaining. Such was his determination that he then produced further quickest sectors in the closing laps, and eventually crossed the line 4th, just 2.6-seconds behind the final podium finisher.

Reflecting on a weekend full of positives, Ben Barnicoat:

“All in all, I think we had an amazing weekend, and I was really pleased to be able to get the pole position – and keep it this time – to start from the P1 position that we had really earned. The Safety Cars during my stint in the opening race prevented us from showing our true pace and stretching the lead over the rest of the field, and we dropped to 2nd after the stops, but for Ollie to be taken out in the way he was was a real disappointment as the podium finish was definitely ours for the taking.  But it was one of those things, and we then switched our focus to race 2, and Ollie made a good start to move up into the top-10 before the pitstops. The car felt alive in my stint, and I had a lot of fun moving from 10th up to 4th on a track where it looked like overtaking would be difficult.
“JOTA and McLaren did a great job with the car, and we were one of the fastest cars on track all weekend, so it was great to take the pole position, and set the quickest lap of the second race. It was shame not to be rewarded with a race win or podium which was definitely deserved, but it was another good showing with the team and pleased to end the Sprint season in such strong form. Now we have one last shot in Barcelona in a couple of weeks.”

Ben now prepares for the final round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS calendar at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 8-10 October.